Wolves welcome?

Group recommends wolf introduction; public can respond

Northwest Colorado residents will get their first chance to howl at Colorado's proposed wolf management plan when the Colorado Division of Wildlife hosts a meeting in Craig on Jan. 31.

A 14-member wolf working group presented recommendations for managing migrating wolves to the Wildlife Commission in Denver on Thursday.

During the next several months, the DOW will accept public comments about the plan.

"We've taken some huge steps and laid a strong foundation for management if wolves ever become established in Colorado," said Gary Skiba, multi-species coordinator for the DOW's wildlife conservation section.

The plan recommends that the DOW should permit a wolf presence in Colorado and that the wolves should be allowed to roam free.

But ranchers should be informed of wolf pack presence, and they should be rewarded for assisting in wolf management using nonlethal methods.

Livestock producers should receive reimbursements for animals killed by wolves, but sports enthusiasts and ranchers shouldn't bear the financial brunt of the reimbursements.

Now that the working group has agreed on recommendations, a schedule to put policies in place will ensue during the next several months.

First, the Colorado Wildlife Commission will review the group's recommendations. In March, DOW Director Bruce McCloskey will provide a draft of the state wildlife agency's recommendations on wolf management to the commission.

The working group will review public comment and DOW recommendations in March or April.

Finally, the commission will vote on final wolf migratory management policies in May.

The working group has volunteered to reconvene at the request of the Wildlife Commission to discuss plans for reintroducing wolves to Colorado or managing established packs. The current recommendations only address migrating wolves.

If the group does reconvene, it will be without Les Hampton, one of Moffat County's two representatives on the group. Hampton filled a local government seat in the group, but he resigned when he left office as a Moffat County commissioner.

He has requested that another Moffat County resident fill the seat should the group reconvene.

The only confirmed presence of a wolf in Colorado in recent years came when a lone female gray wolf was found dead on Interstate 70. The wolf had migrated south from Yellowstone National Park.

But wolf sightings have been confirmed as near to Moffat County as Baggs, Wyo.

Experts said they can't predict how long it could be until wolves establish themselves in the state.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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